Cycling: Legends support Armstrong decision to Tour no more

Three former Tour de France champions have sympathised with Lance Armstrong's decision to retire after this year's race.

Three former Tour de France champions have sympathised with Lance Armstrong's decision to retire after this year's race.

At a press conference on Monday, the Texan, who had been hinting for some time that this season might be his last, confirmed his departure from the sport - following, he hopes, his seventh Tour victory.

Miguel Indurain, one of four men to win the race five times, from 1991 to 1995, was one of the first multiple winners to base his season around the Tour, and he said that winning the sport's greatest event involved more sacrifices each year. "To say you're going to ride the Tour is one thing but to prepare for it is something else," the Spaniard said. "It means six months of very hard work for which you can expect no help."

Eddy Merckx is another five-time winner, though he won his in the days when even the great champions spread themselves around more. He said it was always unfortunate when such a great champion retired. "It's a great personality who leaves the stage after winning six Tours de France, probably seven, and after beating cancer, which remains for me his greatest victory," the Belgian said.

A third five-time champion, the Frenchman Bernard Hinault, believes the Texan is probably starting to fear that he might lose. "If he wins another Tour, he will be right not to have stopped directly after winning his sixth but if he loses, he will go through the back door," Hinault said.

The director of the Tour, Jean-Marie Leblanc, said he had expected the 33-year-old Texan's announcement. "There was probably some weariness, more mentally than physically," he said. "Nevertheless, as he's a winner, a man of pride, he will come on the Tour with the motivation required to try and win a seventh."

Armstrong's announcement came the same day that Tyler Hamilton, his former lieutenant in the Motorola and US Postal teams, was suspended for two years for a blood-doping violation. "In my heart, I find it very hard to believe that he did that," Armstrong said.

Hamilton himself said: "It caught me completely by surprise. Not for a second did I think it was going to turn out this way. The bottom line is an innocent athlete was suspended from competition. You could say it's a victory for [the US Anti-Doping Agency], but I think it's better to say it's a tragedy for all athletes. I'm innocent."

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